SOUTH KINGSTOWN – As the school committee, RAC and community members discussed the merits of sending the Hazard pre-school to Peace Dale and reducing the size of Peace Dale Elementary at the Thursday night work session, it became evident that what the community values most is maintaining quality education.
The school committee was originally going to decide on the Reconfiguration Action Committee's recommendation, which it presented at the June 14 school committee meeting at its June 28 meeting. However, feeling that less than two weeks is not enough time to make an informed decision on how schools should be reconfigured starting in 2012, the committee pushed off its decision after the June 28 meeting.
At the work session, community members, including many teachers joined the RAC members and school department during discussions in which the community could question the RAC's recommendation or express their concerns.
Though the RAC recommended reducing the size of Peace Dale Elementary to 315 students by redistricting other students to the West Kingston, Wakefield and Matunuck schools and moving the preschool to Peace Dale, a concept they called “Plan 29” the school committee wanted to know how or why RAC came to that decision.
“The school committee may no doubt take issue with the conclusions we came to. That's fine. That's what the process is about,” Kenneth Kermes, the RAC facilitator said.
Kermes said the committee looked to six questions to decide on a configuration. In their evaluations, RAC examined whether an option lengthened grade span, enhanced education excellence, created a safe environment for children, limited bus time, allowed for future growth or saved money for the community. While devising a plan, RAC also recognized the strong community in the town and how important neighborhood schools are.
“When we were coming up with ideas, we had a recognition and appreciation for the quality of the existing school system and its current construct and the teachers managing it,” Kermes said. “The concept of neighborhood schools was very much a concept we grew hold of and accepted. It was all these values we were trying to wrestle with.”
School committee member ScottMueller pointed out that after the discussions with the community members, it seemed apparent that many favored making sure the configuration keeps communities and the quality of education intact, while saving money was a close second concern. Mueller said the RAC recommendation even demonstrated support for education and the community, because they did not want to close a school and overcrowd them, decreasing the quality of education and community feel.
Also to keep one aspect of the Wakefield community intact, Superintendent Kristen Stringfellow recommended keeping the Matty Siravo Memorial playground at Hazard and building a new playground for the Peace Dale pre-kindergarten students.
In making their decision over the past 10 weeks, RAC parent member Justin Gallant said the committee had to figure out how to meet the school's fiduciary responsibility and continue to uphold the quality of education.
“The burden was two-fold. How do we save our district money and uphold our educational excellence. They don't go hand in hand,” Gallant said. “This is our idea and what we came up with. The school committee asked us for our best and we delivered. Is it perfect? No. Does it meet every requirement? No.”
Although many of the Peace Dale teachers and parents said they were upset by the change to Peace Dale, which they felt would detrimentally impact their community on Tuesday night's meeting, Gallant said each school was valued and considered in the RAC recommendation.
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